West Philippine Sea: These are Our Islands.

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These are my Islands.
‪#‎westphilippinesea‬ ‪#‎WestPHsea
Digital paint/ Cintiq
2016 Arnold Arre

It really reads like a good bedtime story. One such tale I sorely needed told to me as an adult living in this strange world. When the verdict arrived at sundown, I was caught in monster traffic looking out my window at the faces of tired Filipinos waiting to get places. It’s the same story day in and day out, at least in the metropolis. The city grates at us. Few things seem to work in our favour and all of us little Davids fighting our Goliaths are feeding off each other’s fears and anxieties everyday. Yesterday I ran a quick survey to ask how people formed opinions and how they got themselves informed about issues and things. The general sentiment (though I still have to do ground work across classes and sectors) was that we don’t trust the information we get. We are uncomfortable to rely on institutions, be they media, the police, or the state. We are somewhat paranoid, quick to react, and have no real sense of whether what we know is true. We’re lost for the most part but not without opinions.

But you know, for good or bad, we rely deeply on each other–to be informed, to belong, to matter.

That sense of solidarity is what makes tonight special for me. Tonight I choose the bedtime story over the lengthy FB analyses of ‪#‎CHexit‬ and everything else. I celebrate the victory of a little country out in the Pacific to assert itself in a fair, legal fight against a world superpower. I credit the small but bright, Team WPS, for their gutsy move at the Hague to remind us of our rights. I cherish the valor and courage of quiet men and women who patrol our borders day and night, sometimes aboard a rusty ship. I think of leaders like retired Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban who, in 2013, despite little direction from above, chose to err on the side of duty and declare the Spratlys’ as ours. His men stood their ground. No fanfare, no applause, just a sense of right against immense might.

The decision comes at a strange time too, when, in the same breath, I am thinking of immigrants challenging the necessity of borders in Europe and counting the few nations where Filipinos cannot be found. Do these places exist kaya? I wonder. The hypocrisy of nationalism has also been a mainstay in the papers, in the gestures of many over time. How many more wars to raise flags that are eventually draped over the coffins of those who fight? And what of the faceless nameless many, young and old, whose beings are shattered by taxpayer’s bombs? How many more insults hurled at people because we are too fascinated by our spectacles that color others white, black, yellow, Muslim, terrorist?

I worry about these things everyday because this is all I feel I can do to keep sane and afloat, connected to humanity, warts and all. But on nights like this one, I’m grateful for the giddy cause for pause. It’s a brief reminder of the faith I have in the good men and women of these islands whom I am lucky to call my compatriots, fellow Filipinos.

Mabuhay, and good night!

The non-tourist in Tawi-Tawi.

DSCF0799.JPGSunset in Tawi-Tawi on board a Navy vessel while escorting a General on his rounds. We visited places where he used to be assigned and I was thrilled at the prospect of being invited to come along for the ride.

“Could I really, Sir?” I must have asked him five times until I actually bought my tickets. On the day we met, he sent his aide to give me my marching orders with matching text message saying, “Make sure you’re ready by 5am or else…”

We set out at dawn, made it to Bongao at 7am, and had lechon for breakfast. By 9am we were on the pier about to board a vessel that would take us to the neighbouring island of Sitangkai. The day was action-packed. We must have ate five full meals in between breakfast and dinner. I took copious notes of what we ate and what we saw but it was our conversation on deck, the one we had on the way back that floored me.

For some reason, this friend of mine always gave me the sense that he wouldn’t bullshit his way out of a difficult question. His life was littered already with moments more dreadful than having to be asked by a frail young gal about corruption. So, I decided to risk it.

“Were you aware of certain allegations made against you by so-and-so and is it true that you were party to this hooplah?” The details, obviously, I will keep to myself.

As soon as the words crept out of my mouth, a certain dread came upon me. My vision almost went black and I quickly thought of what I might have to do in case I got thrown off the ship and had to swim to shore.

His face went from relaxed to stern in half-a-second. He didn’t look away but i sensed that part of him was hurt by my having to ask at all. But he knows me. I don’t take bullshit either. Suffice it to say that I got my answer. It was fair and true and it gave me such a deep admiration for people in uniform who have to juggle roles as they take part in these morality plays.

Seeing this image today on an overcast Saturday afternoon and I wonder now what retirement must taste like for my friend? I’m thinking too of the beautiful Sulu Sea and of how much I long to see it again.

In time, in time.

For My Students: A Note on Plato.

To my dearest students who graduated yesterday–CONGRATULATIONS!

Seeing you all donning togas, looking fresh and alive made me so hopeful and excited! The adventure is just about to begin, finally! But before I release you (for real, this time, kasi nag-dry run na tayo last year, diba? Hahaha!), please stick around for one last note on Plato. :)

Let me confess that the Allegory of the Cave was merely a point of departure. We didn’t need to spend too much time with it but I chose to stay because it was a good place to start. You were sophomores then and as a young teacher, I was more convinced to have you interested in learning than to teach you concepts you would surely forget in time. This is how “dogness” and that Cave came to be so finely etched in my memory. Now, why is it so important and what will it mean for the future?

Just two things.

First, if you still have your copies, please return to Book Seven of The Republic where Plato features Glaucon in conversation with Socrates. Recall the idea of people living in this cave and perceiving reality based on shadows reflected on its walls. They were chained to face the dark side while behind them was the entrance where eventually, one of them would make it outside. The light was blinding at first and then as his eyes gradually adjusted, the man, once imprisoned, saw things as they were. He returned excitedly into the cave hoping to share what he had seen and free the other prisoners but alas, they would not have it. They thought he had gone mad and were not willing, as he was, to be free.

Now before you use your Ateneo education to evangelize and free others on the basis of what you now know, make sure you first use your intellectual gifts to free yourselves from the chains you wear (willingly or unwillingly) as they have been handed to you by family and society. Choose what you decide to believe in but err on the side of truth, even if we cannot all agree on what that is. That is the point. Trust in your deep curiosities, even if, and especially if, these make you look and feel silly from time to time. The gift of an education isn’t just a job and the sooner you know this, the less intimidated you will feel about the world of work.

Remember too that Plato concerned himself with a dialectical method. Discussion and debate mattered because precisely, in the Cave, it’s easy to grow comfortable in our ignorance. Never be satisfied with yours–hold opinions but have them questioned and do not fear the use of your minds. Discover the truth of opinions but let the pool of your search be wide enough to encompass even the people you dislike. The point is not to win the argument but to have it and to enrich your lives with ideas. I doubt, too, if Plato would judge history on the basis of a meme or on what he could read on Facebook? So, please, pick up a book or two or three or many even if no one is around to quiz you on them anymore.

Second, and last, remember that Plato’s politics was grounded in his experience of injustice. He was the student of Socrates. You remember him right? Socrates was the guy whom the Athenian government put to death by ingesting hemlock just because he disrupted social order and questioned most things believed to be true.

I do not wish for you to see or experience injustice but something tells me that if you truly live in this world, you are bound to sense it. If you do, take a page off Plato’s playbook and remember that things need not be as they are. You can and must use the truths you know and those you discover to live a different way. Don’t let fear or anyone else tell you otherwise.

There’s life outside of that cave and it is full of all the wonders we might not have known or imagined when we were still in our classroom, thinking of poor Plato.

Okay, class dismissed. Go already! I miss you guys very, very much but in case I don’t see you soon, know that I’m super proud of you! I could not have asked for a better set of students! +AMDG

Safe Places.

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After living too much in the now, I’ve realized that certain things remain constant–this blog being one of them. I stopped writing here for a little over a year because I felt stifled by the jobs I took. Many of the stories I accumulated along the way didn’t lend to a public audience, not yet anyway. It escapes me now but once, I’d read somewhere that the essence of our trips only reveal themselves to us in hindsight and after some time has passed.

In a way that describes the urgency to which I suddenly feel excited to return to this space, to write anew.

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In the period that I was away, I had suffered a mild depression. I didn’t have the heart to confirm if it was clinical but I knew it was serious because my weight began to fluctuate so drastically. Physically, I’m now a shell of my former self but I have not conceded defeat. I will eat my former weight back and there will be curves again, I tell you.

Late last year, I had also done a lot of travelling and moving about in strange places that held bloody histories. Part of the sadness was in having to carry around heavy narratives without any real place to put them. The uncertainty around employment also took a huge toll on me.

All of these anxieties were purged come 2016 after spending the first day of the year on a day trip to Mt. Pulag to accompany a friend launch her book. The sight of mountain ranges bathed in partial sunlight but simultaneously being showered on felt like a reprieve. In front of one of Pulag’s seven lakes, I vowed to give myself as much time as I needed to heal and I remember how poignant it was to look back just as we were scurrying off to the car, to see the fog rolling in and covering the lake. It felt like the place came alive, embraced me, and said, “Ok, off you go. Secret’s safe with me.”

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That day trip did me wonders. It firmed my resolve to hike up a few summits with a team of guys searching for a water source. We camped for what would have cumulatively been two and a half weeks or so. I saw an incredible lot of vistas on the longest walk of my life and whatever providence was at work then is the same one that keeps me afloat today.

So I’m beginning again–like I’m wont to and writing here, in the safest place I know.

Notes on Tattoo Etiquette and Community Life

Beauty.
It’s an emotional bond that I have with Buscalan, Kalinga. It was here, on Valentine’s Day, a few years back, that I marched a broken heart up a path, uncertain of where it led. I had just lost my left eye completely and I wasn’t sure if I’d still be myself without it. At the time, I needed a talisman of sorts to guard me and some marker to signify something that once was. Tattoos had not occurred to me at all. No one in the family had any and I recall my parents being vehemently against them when the eldest sister floated the idea of having one. But then, there I was, one afternoon, seated on the ledge of Fang Od’s house, sipping hot Kalinga coffee and contemplating this Gayaman (centipede) that had crawled its way to a woman’s breast. I pointed to the image and in broken Iloko said, “This is the one. On the left shoulder please.” We sat for three hours. She hardly said anything but when the rain poured she began to sing and that’s when I knew that this had been a pilgrimage and that, as in ritual, she had taken some blood and purified me.

These days, I overhear many things about Buscalan in Manila. Everyone seems to want a piece of the mambabatok and know so much about her and her community. Entire mythologies are being passed around by way of mouth: “You know she isn’t good anymore. Grace is better.” “The tattoo she makes fades.” “Ah, so you’re joining this fad?” “There’s really nothing to see in Buscalan except her and once you’re done getting inked, you might as well go.” “The people there don’t do anything. They’re a lazy bunch and for a little money, they can house you and do stuff for you.” “Good luck getting a tattoo. The lines are so long and sometimes there are people who singit!” “We didn’t announce that we would come. Just call C, he can accommodate as many people, no problem.”

I thought these were all myths until I visited Buscalan again last weekend. I was welcomed by a vandalized shed and four vans parked beside it. “There are over 50 visitors, you know?” No, I don’t know. We climbed up the snaking footway. I was relieved to visit in the dry season having recalled going once in boots that had no traction and nearly paying the price of a pig for would-be injuries. Nothing seemed different, at first. Fang-Od’s house was still where it was but no one was home. I scanned the porch where we once sat and seeing no one, figured they had all gone to nap.

We kept walking until suddenly, I bumped into all of them. Master Fang-Od wore her usual: a scarf elegantly tied around her head. She looked stately and so much younger than her advertised age. Grace had grown tall and beautiful. She squealed when she recognized me and had become quite tall. I could sense that over the years her confidence had grown by leaps and bounds. Her mother and some of the boys were all familiar faces–we were home at last.

It was not clear where we would stay because there were so many people but I had so much faith in G, our guide. He had been saying, since we made the trek, “Basta here in Buscalan, no province, no province.” Of course, no problem. I handed him a small sack of vegetables to tide us over for the duration of our stay and asked if I could bathe. The room we were given had just been vacated, the tourists left coffee cups and garbage lying around. They were quite filthy and I wondered if the homeowner was bothered. Downstairs, after showering, G told me again, “No province.” Of course, I’m sorry I asked.

We took our time the next day. I know well enough that the guides speak among themselves and set schedules with Fang-Od and Grace. Waiting was the order of the day and certainly, what a gift to wait for the Master to be ready, noh? The boys led us to a little shed where all the tattooing was now being done. There was a real line and I was shocked to see others waiting and watching as each person sat to be inked. How odd to sit, as if in confession, but have all your sins air-dried for others to see. Signs of the times, I figured, but I knew I had to be there. For all that had changed, Buscalan is still special. The people make it so.

On the same day, a young boy had turned six and everyone I passed from the village who recognized me made an invitation, “Come up this afternoon. We will go dancing to the sound of gongs and there will be lots of food.” How auspicious, I thought, to be here for another ritual.

I watched Fang-Od and Grace work for six hours that morning. There is no truth to the myth that her lines have gone askew, only that tourists have made a thing of mixing and matching designs so naturally, the drawing takes time. While sitting and eavesdropping on strangers, I was touched seeing how many had traveled great lengths just to meet Fang-Od. I was told of a Chilean tattoo artist who came all the way, machine in tow, to experience the traditional in exchange for his contemporary. The traditional tattoos are a link to this generation of seekers eager to discover and deepen their roots. Once upon a time, these marks were only for the people of Kalinga–a testament to their brave warriors and strong women. They were rites of passage now considered rites of belonging by a majority of young, city-folk who need not be told what it means to be Filipino because they are comfortable claiming it for themselves.

The story of Fang-Od goes beyond the nostalgia for a lost tradition or the attempt to “save” one from dying. She has bypassed entombment in a museum and surpassed the anthropological gaze. In her ripe old age, she is at her prime, peaking by giving people roots in exchange for rice. This is a transaction we are able to enjoy despite the pretentious value of our city currencies–for what does one really do with paper money in the mountains where people would rather have your weight in rice? Yet, for a few thousand pesos and a different form of toiling away in our bland offices, we are able to purchase our way into tradition, into the life of this community. Fang-Od grants us that privilege as bearer of her gifts and this is why my tattoo means everything and nothing. She allows me to inherit her art despite my being an outsider. She does it because she knows how to do it, because it is beautiful, and because I tell her I want it. It is my want–our collective desire–that translates the old symbols into new ones and keeps the taktaktak-ing sound alive in the mountains.

You can imagine my anger then when some prick of a politico-wannabe, also from Kalinga, brought a sorority to Buscalan and attempted not only to cut the line (to accommodate his guests), but also advised his guests to feel free to haggle with the mambabatoks. Are you truly from Kalinga, Sir, and are you not ashamed to have exploited your own? Kaili mo isu da ngem sika pay ti lastog.

First, the line. The logic of waiting is not only to appease the visitors that have arrived before you. It is the due respect you afford the woman who has sacrificed much in the mastery of this art. I have never asked but I know she is single to this day–a price I am guessing she had to pay to fulfil her role as mababatok. I will verify but as far as I know, there are only pigs in her custody and a ragtag set of grand-nieces and nephews. In tattooing, she uses no machines and employs no artist. She is both and there is a science to her skill. She knows the movements of the body well enough to decide the best, most regal placement of the tattoos. Yet, despite embodying the soul of this art, I watch people rush her into attending to them. “The bus will leave me.” “I have no time.” “I came just for this, what is taking so long.” “She can sleep when I am not here. I mean, what else is she going to do here anyway?”

Fang-Od wipes the water in her eyes and touches her head. She is tired, with a recurring headache, and I know she has not eaten. It’s my turn. The visitors are anxious. They want to know if I’ve given up my slot for them. The politician continues to berate the guides, nagging them to tell the Master that someone else wishes to sit. They are tense, understandably, and a little surprised by my protest. I apologize to them profusely under my breath but the one next to me taps me in the arm and smiles, “No province.” Meanwhile, in a language so foreign but a tone understandable, I hear her give a firm, “No.” She is gesturing at me to come over and telling the guides in a not-so-sweet way that I have been waiting and it is my turn. I’m so ashamed to cause this stir. If the politician and his insistent guest had just found the nerve to speak to me directly, I would have perhaps let them cut the line? Who knows?

I am seated half-naked, surrounded by this throng of people eager to see and get it over with–very much unlike the first time. There is no intimacy here at all except forthe passing looks of the gentlemen, now gentle dogs, keen on seeing if the grip I have on my shirt betrays the breasts I am trying to conceal. Soon, Grace arrives and the insistent visitor permits her to begin a tattoo that she is told Fang-Od will later finish.

We are so near each other now with the insistent lady–just the karma I deserve for having caused the stir. She sees the work to be done on me and understands (or so she says). I am peeved to say the least, but having felt the needle on my back and heard the music of the Master’s laugh, I am happy to make small talk with this lady. We are fine until she asks me about cost, “How much will this cost, Ate? Hindi ba mahal yun?”

“I don’t know. How much does your life cost, Ading?”

She didn’t hear me because she was already asking Grace if it was okay to have her tattoo some Alibata.

“Nagpunta ka dito sa Buscalan para lang magpabatok ng Alibata?! Dapat pala sa Manila ka nalang nagpa-tattoo.”

What is (G)race, truly?
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This has gone on longer than expected and still, I feel I have not said what I need to say so I will try again tomorrow. Perhaps then I’ll tell you a bit about the community gathering and the words exchanged there. But simply, I wish only that we saw visits to communities as a person-to-person exchange. I wish we appreciated more the time our guides spend with us especially when they could be working the fields, raising their own set of kids and pigs. Our money can afford us space in their homes but it is not commensurate to their service and hospitality i.e. go home with your own damn garbage and don’t vandalize–don’t call them lazy either.

I wish we regarded our homestays less like hotel rooms we can pay to trash and more like homes. To accommodate the bulk of visitors, I overheard a friend tell his wife to sleep next door and bring the kids. They gave up their own rooms because there were too many people to house. “No province. No province.” I know but in my province, that shit will not fly. My mother will have none of it and I understand why.

Lastly, as a tourist, I have grown so aware of the impact I have on the communities I visit. When I cause a stir by not having the sensitivity to inquire about the ways of the people, I go home blissfully ignorant thinking that I had the best trip ever. Meanwhile, I leave the people I have stirred to face the consequences of my actions alone. We take our fond memories home with us and in exchange, we leave headaches for people to deal with. What shall that man tell his wife in the coming evenings before they make love? How shall he explain, once more, that though she is Queen in his heart and in his home, it is the green gold of the city that can sometimes buy her a home? Hay.

Serious Question: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Fears.

Fear is a paralyzing force and yet, I don’t understand why I’ve lived with it for so long. Someone once shared a photo of bears and said, “Don’t feed the Fears.” This stuck with me a lot because everyday, I find a piece of myself to sacrifice to the Fears.

Why? It’s not wise to do things when we already know their negative consequences and you’d think, like Pavlov’s dog, we could wean ourselves off fear especially when we become aware of how fear conditions us to live a certain way. I like to say I act according to reason but if my experiences have anything to show for themselves, it’s that I don’t really. Otherwise, why would I let fear get the best of me–as it often does?

George Addair offers compelling food for thought. He says, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”  So, I’ve asked myself (and others) this question:

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I noticed, judging by the first few answers that I got, that this was indeed a deep, fundamental question–and as these things go in our culture, we make a quip of it first to test the waters. I do this often, offering a small dose of comedy in serious situations, just to ease the mood. Then, when it seems like people have gotten over the initial awkwardness, a space is built to house genuine conversation.

Today’s topic? The truth about who we are as we know ourselves to be.

I noticed too that though others genuinely made the effort and wore their hearts on their sleeves, some were not as forthcoming. It’s also the nature of the question to be so arresting that we can no longer come to terms with it–or we become afraid of the abyss we are staring into, because secretly we know that it, too, is staring at us! Jeepers creepers!

As for me, I asked this question publicly because I wanted to confront myself privately. I acknowledge my own need for witnesses–friends–to see what I’m struggling with and help me discover what this question is trying to arouse in me.

Here is my shortlist in no particular order:

If I were not afraid, I would…

  1. Apply to the graduate schools of my dreams and study what I want. Poetry, Literature, Security Studies…the list goes on.
  2. See more of the Philippines! Buy a ticket to Tawi-Tawi and work my way up to Luzon slowly, deliberately–using any and all modes of transportation.
  3. Own up to my scars and tell those who hurt me that they did (to let it go, you know?)
  4. Write for National Geographic. Legitimately, in honour of my grandfather who shared his collection with me and of my uncle who so kindly funded our addiction.
  5. Learn to dive and swim in the open sea–because I’m a blind bat who freezes when the bottom disappears.
  6. Go WWOOFing in a county where no one speaks English.
  7. Travel solo for six months without a plan and let only curiosity move me…but I have to see the desert.
  8. Be a journalist–live with outcasts–migrants, gypsies, pirates, trace the Filipino diaspora, and chase after every story I’ve ever dreamt of writing about. (God, there are so many.)
  9. Learn enough of a language to speak confidently (because speaking broken French and Spanish out loud terrifies me)
  10. Say NO so that my YES retains its potency.

Fear will not disappear magically if I choose to pursue any of these things. If anything, I’ve learned that it will only intensify because the closer we are to being our authentic selves, the more the world rubs against us abrasively. I can live with that for as long as I remember where I came from and how, at 18, I wrote down a similar list of fears that no longer frighten me today.

Perhaps this is really all we need every now and then? To acknowledge what scares us, tip our hats to these fears, and carry on.

Education and Elections: Running for K to 12.

It’s always when elections are upon us that I feel a huge dis-ease slowly building, rising like a wave inside me. It used to be a sensation triggered by theory–by my mind telling me that something was amiss when Politician X shifted parties or “changed his mind” suddenly about things as if he hadn’t believed them to begin with. Then today, no longer working on the assumptions of the naïve, I saw for myself how ambition and a bid for relevance turned an otherwise sweet supporter of the K to 12 Program into a sour opponent. He spoke with an air of expertise and asked questions as if his truest intent was to uphold the right of every Filipino to access quality education. Surely, his current antics as a Representative will win him a seat in the Senate. It helps, too, that he carries the name of an old guard, memorable to many. But then, with all sobriety, I wonder what the real cost of his attempt at relevance is to the Filipino people? Don’t we all stand to lose more when we elect leaders who are only driven by a thirst for power and have no appetite for service? When we elect leaders who are unfit, lacking in experience and aspiration–not for the self but for the nation? For our people?

I sat red-faced today listening to him talk, recognizing the need to hide my emotions–because feeling, they say, gets in the way of professionalism and wins us enemies. I “fixed” my face, smiled, spoke in a sweet tone until it was over and I forgot all about it.

Before entering the Department of Education, I was outspoken about education because I trusted my intuition. I went out of my comfort zone, traveled to different localities, listened openly to the heartaches of teachers, students, and parents alike. I withheld judgment knowing that it was an easy path that would lead nowhere, except to take me further from the truth. I won myself a slot to a “prestigious” fellowship because I knew that “the best decisions concerning development are not made from comfortable positions.” Then, upon entering the Department, I grew a certain impotence from having nurtured fear. I stopped writing about education because I felt I didn’t know enough and could not teach myself what I needed to know to be credible. I did not want to be wrong and/or outspoken because that’s a terrible combination. I imagined the impact my mistakes would make on this already tired agency–burdened by the size and scope of its responsibility–whose people could use more than just my two cents. A lot of our teachers and personnel work so hard, quietly, to make education a reality for many of our learners. What if I eclipsed that because I was wrong? Maybe (you think that) I think too much of myself–I do.:) But, seriously, having seen how people react to my posts, I know I’ve grown a following. You are good audience whose time, talent, and patience I don’t want to waste especially seeing as a few lines shared here can trigger August movements in Luneta for good governance or the delivery of toys to Zamboanga’s children caught in the crossfires.

I apologize for having relinquished the responsibility to hold an opinion on education–on the need for K to 12, specifically. I made a fake offering of my silence because I was afraid to be wrong. My ego could not bear it but I know better now. What changed? I was struck by what my boss (Sec. Armin Luistro FSC) said to the press today when asked about our readiness for K to 12 amid calls for its suspension:

“Ready na ready na tayo! Para tayong tumatakbo ng marathon nito eh. Ang kulang nalang natin, “the last mile.” Tapos [biglang] sasabihin sa atin, “Hindi mo kaya.” “Eh, nakikita ko na eh, nakikita ko na yung finish line! Anong kailangan ko? Extra boost at tulong para sa lahat kasi talaga namang hindi kaya ng DepEd mag-isa ito. [Nandito na tayo]—kulang nalang, a little prayer and a little support for the DepEd team who is actually implementing [K to 12]. Aaminin ko, hindi kami perfect. Maraming, maraming mga pwedeng baguhin at i-improve. Bukas na bukas kami dyan. Pero sana sabay tayo—sabay sa batikos, sabay din yung tulong na [sabihing] “Kaya mo yan!”

That’s a leader: One who, without flinching, recognizes our inadequacies, knows there is bound to be other ways to get things done and is willing to listen to whoever can help us do our work better. He is not afraid as I am to make mistakes because he knows it’s par for the course–but more than that, he knows that building on a reform requires engaging everyone–naysayers and supporters alike. Why? Because relevance to him is measured by how well we do the work we set out to do. It’s measured by our commitment not to our office’s reputation but to our mandate: to protect and promote the right of every Filipino to quality, equitable, culture-based, and complete basic education.

Concerning the young representative, the wave of my dis-ease and anger toward him will surely crash at the shore. The sea, I know, will grow calm again, erasing my memory of his opportunism in favor of just having to “deal with the necessary evil.” It will be as if nothing’s happened and I will go by my business as usual–I will see my anxiety over elections as simply an ebbing and flowing of events that mark our nation’s history. It’s in our DNA as Filipinos to search for narratives to believe in, for heroes to save us and so, even the most unlikely become iconic and saintly in our eyes. Perhaps this time (and as early as now) I just want to register, for myself, that in the coming elections I’m not buying into that bullshit anymore. I will look for people who uphold good, time-tested qualities and values which I know exist among a quiet minority. And having known the effects of being uneducated, kept in perpetual poverty and indebtedness, separated from a world of opportunity by the inability to read, write, and understand–I certainly will not lose the will to speak up for every Filipino’s right to an education they deserve. K to 12 is it and in the coming days I will write more about what I know (and don’t know)–because this reform has the capacity to take us from where we are to where we want to be–and we best be prepared to understand how, why, and for whom it works.